Galatians: We Are Children of Promise!

ABCsIn Galatians 4, Paul writes of the “elementary principles of the world” the “weak and worthless elements” (ESV). The NKJV translates as follows:

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. (Gal. 4.3)

But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? (Gal. 4.9)

Notice the slavery / bondage aspect to the elements. These “elementary principles” are like the ABCs, the basic building blocks of religious activity. Paul here writes of the Jewish religion, originally mediated and recorded by the hand of Moses. Although the law contains the greatest expression of God’s holiness the world has ever seen, Paul still considered it “weak and worthless” because of its inability to deliver from slavery. In fact, people were enslaved to those elementary things.

God never intended for us to stay in the ABC stage, though, and when the fullness of time came, God sent Jesus to live according to the law in order to deliver everyone from the law. The result? We become the actual adopted sons of God! No longer does the tutor watch over our every move; now we enjoy great freedom in Christ!

SlaveryWhy, then, Paul asks, would you go back to those elementary principles? Why return to the ABCs if you have already graduated? You want to become slaves again?

At the end of Galatians 4, Paul allegorizes events from Abraham’s life. Abraham had two wives. Sarah was his free wife, and Hagar was his slave wife (concubine). Each wife bore a son. Hagar had Ishmael and Sarah had Isaac. Notice Paul’s train of thought:

  1. The son of the slave woman was born according to the flesh (by the forethought and will of man). The son of the free was born through a promise (by the forethought and will of God).
  2. The slave child represents the Jerusalem below, tied to the image of Mt. Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments, the Law of Moses. The free child represents the Jerusalem above, which is free from the Law of Moses.
  3. Those in Christ, like Isaac, are children of promise. Those outside of Christ are children of bondage.
  4. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so now the children of the flesh persecute and afflict the children of the promise.

Paul ends the analogy with a quote: “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman” (Gal. 4.30). Paul finds this business so serious that he will not even allow the free to live side-by-side with the slave. And who are these? The free is he who has been released from the Law in Christ; the slave is he who continues to trust in his keeping of the Law for salvation.

Brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman! We are children of promise, born “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.13).

Galatians: Because You Are Sons

AdoptLet’s try to absorb the reality of our adoption by God.

Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born  of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4.1-7)

First, the Father is not forced to adopt. Parents adopted who they will. Adoption is a process of choice completely on the part of the parent. In the time of Paul, Roman law dictated that an adopted son received all the rights and privileges of a natural-born son. Bob Utley writes the following in his commentary on Galatians:

In Roman law, adoption was very difficult. A long, involved and expensive legal procedure, once enacted adoption afforded several special rights and privileges: (1) all debts were cancelled; (2) all criminal charges were dropped; (3) they could not be legally put to death by their new father; and (4) they could not be disinherited by their new father. In legal terms, they were a completely new person. Paul was alluding to the believers’ security in Christ by using this Roman legal procedure (cf. Rom. 8:15, 23). When a father publicly adopted a son, he officially and permanently became his heir. *

Second, the “we” in Galatians 4 I believe refers to both Jews and Gentiles (see Gal. 3.27-29) who were redeemed (bought back) by Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles used to be “under the law” (they both stood accountable before God), but Christ extracted and released them. Though they used to be slaves, now they were sons! How did they become sons? God adopted them into His family.

Third, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts because we are sons. The Holy Spirit in us, by Whom we cry out “Abba, Father!”, proves the fact of our adoption. See also Romans 8.9-17: the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are sons of God. If we have the Holy Spirit, we are sons–guaranteed! If we are sons, we have the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, if we are sons we are heirs of God, selected to receive an inheritance.

Doesn’t all that make you want to jump for absolute joy?!


* Utley, Robert James. Paul’s First Letters: Galatians and I & II Thessalonians. Vol. Volume 11. Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 1997.

SERMON: One Life to Live

Thinking about life on a deeper-than-normal level should be a regular exercise in your life. Where are you now? Where are you going? What is your aim and purpose in life? What is your life all about? Who is most important in your life?

Moses ponders the life of man in the context of the everlasting, eternal, all-powerful God, and the answers he finds are humbling. His response enlightens the readers. Ponder Psalm 90 with us.

You only have One Life to Live.

Galatians: Has the Old Law Been Replaced by a New Law?

1cor15-56-57We left off on our last post with the question “Why then the law?” Paul asked this because he had already shown that God never intended to save man by the law or through the law–so now he must explain why God initially bound Israel under the law.

Things Law Cannot Do

  • Bless (3.10-14)
  • Correspond with Faith (3.12)
  • Fulfill God’s Promise (3.15-18)
  • Give Life (3.21)
  • Give Freedom (3.22)

Negative Things Law Does

  • Brings a Curse (3.10-14)
  • Imprisons Under Sin (3.22)
  • Holds Captive (3.23)

Positive Things Law Does

  • Defines and Exposes Sin (3.19)
  • Brings the World to Christ (3.24-29)

And remember how long God planned for the law to endure: “until the seed should come” (3.19b), until faith came (3.23, 25), “until Christ came” (3.24).

Out with the Old...

Has the Old Law Been Replaced with a New Law?

A brother argued recently that we are under Christ’s law today (1 Cor. 9.21); therefore, he insisted, while Galatians tells us we are no longer under the law of Moses, Christ brought a new law by which we are saved today if we keep it.

That is a theological theory. I say theory because the Bible never speaks of Christ coming to replace the law of Moses with a new law. This is important! We must speak where the Bible speaks, and if you insist on a universal law switch-up, you must support your position with scriptures which speak to that effect.

New TestamentWhat the Bible does clearly state is that the old covenant has been replaced with a new covenant. Covenants, truly, may have law embedded within them, but not necessarily.

Exodus through Deuteronomy lists God’s laws to Israel, a law system like none given other on earth, including moral, civil, and ceremonial precepts. It was obviously written as law.

Come, then, to the New Testament, and search diligently for something similar today. You’ll be hard pressed to find it. Many comb the New Testament looking for laws to extract; they seek to discover a New Law similar to the Old. If God has given a new law similar to the old, shouldn’t we expect to find it clearly defined and stated, just as He did for Israel?

How is the New Covenant contrasted with the Old?

The old covenant is associated with works; the new covenant is associated with faith (Galatians 3; Romans 3.27-28; 4.2-8; etc.). James speaks of the law as a thing which convicts and holds accountable; he contrasts that with a “law of liberty” in which “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.8-13).

When God speaks of “law of faith” (Rom. 3.27) or “law of liberty” (James 2.12), there is a fundamental difference in type of law as we contrast it with the law of commandments. The law of liberty is not the same kind of law as we find in the Old Testament. The law of faith is not the same kind of law as the Law of Moses. Paul shows this distinction: “the law is not of faith, rather, ‘The one who does them shall live by them'” (Gal. 3.12).

Remember, if there had been a law which could actually give life, then righteousness would have come through the Old Law (Gal. 3.21). The point? Law, as we understand law, cannot save. Period.

Galatians: How Is the Promise Fulfilled?

PonderingTo Review…

Thesis: We are not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2.15-16)

Proof #1: You received the Holy Spirit not by works of the law but by hearing with faith (Gal. 3.1-9)

Proof #2: All who rely on works of the law are under a curse (Gal. 3.10-14)

To Continue…

Proof #3: The Promise was not fulfilled through the law (Gal. 3.15-20)

God promised that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. Despite what the Jews were thinking, the special covenant Moses ratified between God and Israel at Mt. Sinai did not fulfill that promise God made to Abraham.

CancelledDid the covenant with Israel cancel out the promise? Paul says absolutely not! The law given through Moses did not change a bit of what God had promised.

Paul makes a great deal out of the phrase “to his offspring,” showing how offspring is singular and means one man, namely Christ. The promises God gave Abraham were to be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ–not through Moses and the Law. Abraham lived 430 years before the Law was ever written, so God was faithfully working out His promises long before the Law came, and the Law did not change the direction of that work. When you read the Old Testament, it’s often good to think of the BIG STORY in which God works out the Seed of Abraham in such a way as to bring Jesus onto the earth “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4.4).

Therefore the Law must have served some other purpose(s), since it did not accomplish the fulfillment of God’s promise. This is why Paul begs the question, “Why then the law?” (Gal. 3.19)

  1. It was added because of transgression (3.19)
  2. It was a bi-lateral covenant between God and Israel (3.19-20)
  3. It imprisoned everyone under sin (3.22) / held people captive (3.23)
  4. It served as a guardian / tutor / schoolmaster (3.24)

How long did God intend for the Law given through Moses to endure?

  • “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3.19)
  • “until the coming faith would be revealed” (3.23)
  • “until Christ came” (3.24)

Rapt AttentionGalatians 3.21 is extremely important for us to hear and understand:

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.

The little “if” can change your worldview! Paul plainly teaches NO LAW in existence can give life. Law inherently cannot redeem, save, justify, etc. Just the opposite, law condemns and binds us under judgment and wrath. Law has no mercy. In order for us to receive mercy, forgiveness, and grace, we must receive it from someone who loves us and has the ability to give it to us.

It’s not as if God’s law to Israel was imperfect–it is the most perfect law which has ever been given to mankind! If any law could save, that would be the one.

Neither did God abandon the Law of Moses simply to replace it with a better law, the Law of Christ, by which we are now saved. The Bible never reads like that anywhere. Christ didn’t come to save us via a better law; He came to save us from the condemnation of the law. That’s important, and we must not miss it, because the Galatian brethren missed this point and were cursed because of it.

Why then the law? The law pushes us on to Christ! It displays the absolute holiness of God and exposes our own lack of holiness. But the law doesn’t save; for that we need Christ! “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3.29).